By Rabbi Nachum Ehrentreu
Zaporozhye is a large city in eastern Ukraine, home to some 15,000 Jews. Fierce fighting is taking place just 60 miles from us. It takes up all our attention. The situation is very unstable, with little sign of getting better. We don’t know what’s going to happen next and being unsure is very stressful.
Other people might call what’s going on something different to me, depending on their political sympathies, but my view is: this is a war. What else could you call the shelling of civilian regions? There are thousands of victims – dead and wounded. Buses have been hit, roads, houses and infrastructure, leaving people without water, electricity or food supplies.
People are forced to flee their homes to save their lives. We are supporting 100 families who have fled to our community to escape the fighting.
Our schoolchildren now have classes on different bomb types and what they shouldn’t lift from the ground. They learn the quickest way to get to a shelter in case of shelling. This is the reality we live in.
Inflation is out of control. Some banks have gone bust. Prices are skyrocketing. People can’t afford basic foodstuffs. Others can’t afford to heat their homes.
Because the government hasn’t been able to support the population properly, volunteer organisations have stepped in. They work hard to protect the most vulnerable people and support Ukraine’s army.
We don’t know what is going to happen from day to day and so families live under huge levels of stress.
They fear for their lives, or they worry about relatives they’ve lost contact with. Salaries are not guaranteed. Nor is social security.
Some Jews have chosen to make aliyah, but it is not a mass phenomenon. Families know that to find cheap accommodation in Israel they will have to live in unsafe neighbourhoods. The upheaval to change their lives prevents them from going.
The vast majority of people here are pro-Ukrainian. They want this war to end. They want their peaceful life back. People try to attend the synagogue, support the community and give each other hope.
We have supported about a hundred families who have been forced from their homes by the fighting. We go on doing that. Many need longer-term support and a few are in dire need. We provide them with a place to live, clothes, basic home utilities, meals, visits to a doctor and help from psychologists.
We are very grateful to World Jewish Relief for enabling us to help those in need right from the start.
Golders Green United Synagogue helped us cover the costs of two seder nights, and distribute matzah and Pesach food to elderly Jews who could not afford it.
There is still more to be done, however: there are ongoing daily expenses for heating, water, electricity, meals and medicines.
Zaporozhye is a Ukrainian city full of history and national spirit. The Jewish population interacts with non-Jews every day and it can’t remain indifferent to what’s going on today.
For us, it is important to help Jews – as our wise men said, every Jew is responsible for another Jew – but we do not ignore the suffering of others if we’re able to help non-Jewish Ukrainians as well.
Members of our community gather products for the army, they volunteer in the city and attend wounded soldiers at hospitals. We’re all in this together.
Although we always hope for better times, we can’t see things changing any time soon. There has just been the fourth wave of mobilisation to the army; members of the Jewish community have received their orders as well.
Politicians talk, the conflict moves west and some think its aim is to make a corridor to the Crimean peninsula by land. The greatest hope is peace and economic stability, but we also hope that there are people willing to support us during these difficult times.
Rabbi Nachum Ehrentreu is the rabbi of Zaporozhye, eastern Ukraine. To support the Jews of Ukraine visit www.wjr.org.uk